Dr. LeRoy T. Walker
Dr. LeRoy T. Walker (1918-2012), chancellor emeritus of North Carolina Central University, was a historic leader in the U.S. Olympic movement and an acclaimed track coach and educator who shaped thousands of lives.
Following an outstanding career as a student and athlete at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, Dr. Walker established the track and field team at North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University [NCCU]), serving as head coach from 1945 to 1973. He coached 111 All-Americans, 40 national champions and 8 Olympians, including gold medalist Lee Calhoun, who won the 110-meter hurdles at the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games. His athletes went to every Olympics from 1956 to 1976. Dr. Walker served as the chancellor of North Carolina Central University from 1983 to 1986.
Background Image: Dr. LeRoy T. Walker and members of the North Carolina College track team. Courtesy of the James E. Shepard Memorial Library Archives, Records and History Center.
Coach Al Buehler
Following a stellar undergraduate track career at the University of Maryland, Al Buehler joined the Duke University Blue Devils in 1955 as head cross country coach, a job he would hold for over 45 years. In 1964, Buehler was promoted from assistant to head coach of the track and field team. His celebrated coaching career drew to a close when Buehler retired after Duke hosted the 2000 NCAA Track and Field Championships at Wallace Wade Stadium.
During his tenure with the Blue Devils, which included chairing the physical education department at Duke, Buehler coached 10 All-Americans, seven Penn Relay champions, six ACC championship cross country teams, and five Olympians, two of whom went on to win medals. Beyond coaching, he also broke down barriers for marginalized communities.
When long-distance runner Ellison Goodall approached Buehler about running at Duke during the late 1970s, he took her under his wing, and the Duke women’s track team was born. And it was Buehler who gave up every men’s scholarship he had to help support the women’s team and make sure that Duke met the requirements of Title IX. “Al Buehler had the foresight to realize that women can be athletes too,” noted Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic gold medalist, who competed against Goodall.
Background Image: Coach Al Buehler with the ACC Cross-Country Championship Team, 1970. Courtesy of the Duke University Archives.
“There are a lot of great men, and there are a lot of great coaches, but there are not a lot of great coaches that are great men. Coach Buehler was definitely one of those.”
- Carl Lewis, nine-time Olympic gold medalist.
As Close As Brothers
Dr. LeRoy Walker and Al Buehler became friends at the height of segregation in the South, forming a brotherhood that would change the history of track and field. Together, they helped bring the Pan Africa-USA International Track Meet to Durham in 1971 and the USSR-USA International Track & Field Meet to Durham in 1974, where over 65,000 attendees packed Duke’s stadium during the height of the Cold War.
Many people have heard about “The Secret Game,” the South’s first interracial basketball game played in Durham in 1944 between North Carolina College (now NCCU) and Duke University’s medical school team. Fewer may be familiar with how Durham’s track and field community, behind the friendship of Walker and Buehler, was such a force for change in race relations, as well.
Continuing the tradition started in 1947 by Walker and Duke track and field coach Robert Chambers, Buehler often invited Walker’s team to train with Duke’s on Duke’s state-of-the-art track while NCCU’s needed repair. At the time, Duke’s campus, hospital, and stands above the track were segregated. Buehler refused to participate in meets that wouldn't accept Walker’s athletes. The two couldn't change the segregation happening in the stands, but they could change what was happening on the track.
Background Image: Coaches Leroy T. Walker and Al Buehler, 1975. Courtesy of the Herald-Sun.